Rachel Parent is a 15 year-old advocate for GMO labeling and founder of Kids Right to Know. Rachel got interested in GMOs when she was 12. In a prize-winning speech at her school in Toronto, Canada, she explained how GMOs played into a wide range of issues important to Canadians, including poverty, deforestation, preservation of wildlife habitat and possibly human health.
Today, she is an outspoken activist against GMOs, appearing on TV, print and radio media and speaking at conferences. Check out our interview with her.
What made you passionate about the issue of genetically engineered food and mandatory labeling?
I was shocked to learn that our government wasn’t doing any independent studies on GMOs but was relying on studies by the biotech companies, the very companies that stood stand to gain from their approval. I decided a good place to start was to create awareness of GMOs, the potential risks to our health and the environment, and to demand labeling, so people would have the freedom to choose if they want to avoid eating them.
What do you think it will take for major companies to become more transparent?
I think it will take people changing their buying habits, such as avoiding all foods containing corn, canola, soy, high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oil. It will also take people contacting these companies, telling them they won’t buy their products if they don’t label GMOs; asking their grocery stores to stock non-GMO products, and asking their elected officials to enact mandatory GMO labeling.
Do you think biotechnology offers potential benefits?
Yes, an example is marker-assisted selection, which helps scientists predict whether a plant will have a desired gene that results in the selected trait. This technology has led to higher yields and increased disease resistance in crops. There may be other potential benefits to biotechnology. However, they must be fully and independently tested to determine their impact on human health and the environment before being released.
What are some of the things you’ve done to make people, especially your age, more aware of this issue?
I’ve organized two Kids’ Right To Know marches with an environmental theme in downtown Toronto, each attended by about 250 to 300 kids and their families, most wearing costumes and carrying non-GMO signs. We baked a 48 inch non-GMO fresh apple pie that I shared with those less fortunate after my GMO speech. We created a massive Get well Canada (Free of GMO’s) greeting card that I plan to take to our government as a massive petition. I asked a few eighth-graders to send me their art showing how GMOs impact the environment. I’ve spoken at several large rallies, conventions, shows, schools and even libraries. Created a website www.gmo-news.com, I’m on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve set up a YouTube channel. I’ve given many TV, radio and magazine interviews and debated talk show host Kevin O’Leary on the Lange and O’Leary Show last July 31. The video of that event has had 2.8 million views on YouTube so far. I had the honor to be chosen as one of the 40 United Nations Youth Educational program Leaders, which allows me to speak about GMOs on webinars for students around the world about GMOs through. I also recently spoke at We Day, an annual youth empowerment event motivating youth to take action on local and global issues, which 22,000 teens/youth attended!
Do you try to avoid eating GE foods? How?
I read labels. I avoid anything that contains corn, canola, soy, high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oil. I look for the Non-GMO Project label and buy organic when possible. I also check the Non-GMO Shopping Guide online that lists products that are GMO free.
Do you have other ambitions in the world of food activism?
Yes, I’m becoming involved in an organization called Why Hunger, chaired by Jen Chapin, daughter of its founder, the late Harry Chapin, Why Hunger advances long-term solutions to hunger and poverty by supporting community-based organizations that empower individuals and build self-reliance. I would also be interested in improving school lunches to make sure the food is all non-GMO.
You went head to head with talk show host Kevin O’Leary on GE foods. What was that like?
It was a great experience for me, and I’m grateful to Kevin and CBC for giving me this opportunity. I felt it was a well-balanced conversation, despite the fact that Kevin kept trying to lead the conversation to GMOs feeding the hungry and reducing blindness, neither of which are true. I argued for further long-term independent testing. I contended that GMOs should be labeled so that people have the freedom to choose whether or not to eat them.
Who has inspired you to become a leader in fighting for a better food system?
Gandhi is a huge role model for me. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth”. Another role model is Vandana Shiva, an amazing and inspirational environmental activist.
What would you say to others who are hoping to lead a movement for positive change?
Find your passion, do your research, and be strong and determined. You may encounter obstacles along the way, but you have to persevere and have the drive to help make the world a better place.
What are good resources for others hoping to learn more about GMOs?
I’d recommend visiting www.Cban.ca, the Institute for Responsible Technology website www.responsibletechnology.org and downloading a copy of “GMO Myths and Truths” from my website at www.kidsrighttoknow.com.